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Thursday, October 09, 2014 

Perpetuating abuse?

And there is no point saying this again / There is no point saying this again / But I forgive you, I forgive you / Always I do forgive you

There comes a time in every man's life where he has to sit down and ask himself: am I a rapist?  Not am I a potential rapist, as in the age old formulation not all men are rapists, but all rapists are men, like you know, the just as accurate not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.  No, have I without realising it committed hundreds, possibly thousands of sex crimes?

Horrified as I am to admit, it seems to be the case.  According to Jennifer Lawrence, by so much as looking at her stolen naked self-shots I have perpetuated a sexual offence.  I don't know her, she certainly doesn't know me, and yet without her knowledge I have violated her.  Nor is this limited just to Lawrence.  I have raped dozens of other celebrities, and by extension hundreds if not thousands of ordinary women and men.  Some may well have consented to or even been paid to appear in the images and videos I've seen of them, but what if they later regretted it, they were doing it only to feed a habit, or were even coerced, as some have said they were?

But even this doesn't begin to scratch the surface of my depravity.  Should I find someone attractive while going about my everyday life, there is no way for them to consent to what might be going through my mind.  Of course, all the liaisons in my head are consensual, and I don't imagine having sex with every attractive woman I see, but they can't know what I'm thinking and so therefore can't tell me to stop.  Just how many people is it I've abused?  Did the Bible have it right in suggesting you merely have to look at a married woman in a lustful way to have committed adultery?

We have been, to drop the pretence, thrust right back into the old and increasingly hoary question of complicity.  Despite its decrepitude, it still bears examining and in politics if nothing else it remains a vital one.  Just this week the Sun has been urging those of faiths and none to come together to condemn Islamic State, with the usual edge of steel just beneath the surface as there always is.  "Their imams must ceaselessly condemn IS", the paper intones, with the use of "their" perhaps a bit of a giveaway.  There's also more than a certain irony in the recycling of the "not in my name" slogan some took up during the protests against the Iraq war of 11 years ago, this time with even less meaning than the last.  More pertinent questions could be asked concerning how government policy encouraged the growth of IS in the first place, but first Muslims ought to deny responsibility for something they have no control over.

Have us ordinary mortals transgressed then for merely looking at Lawrence and the other celebrities as they only wanted themselves or partners to see them?  Quite simply, no.  I say this despite pretty much agreeing with Lawrence on every other point she made in the interview with Vanity Fair.  She doesn't have a thing to apologise for, and the people who broke into her iCloud or however they obtained the images quite possibly are detached from humanity.  This was beyond mere "revenge porn", where an embittered ex releases images shared with them in confidence; it was targeted and criminal.  All the same, when there's nothing you can do to get the images taken down, not least when they existed in the "cloud" in the first place, looking for yourself does not perpetuate the offence.  The abuse has already occurred; you can't make things any worse unless you join in by attempting to profit from the crime.  Watching something that has already occurred does not make you complicit in it; as previously argued, it's only when it goes beyond the looking for the unusual into something darker, to the point where you're changed by it that we need to start worrying.

I don't recall for instance anyone having a problem with Caitlin Moran relating how she felt after watching the leaked video of the "Dnepropetrovsk maniacs" murdering Sergei Yatzenko.  It probably encouraged more than a few other people to go and watch it, just as it was a passing craze to show the infamous "2 girls 1 cup" clip to someone unsuspecting and film their reaction.  Few pointed out the women in the video most likely earned a relative pittance, at least by American porn standards for their performance, nor worried about how it becoming a minor phenomenon could have affected them personally.  Ex-porn actors in the US have come under pressure to quit positions they've merely volunteered for, so you can only ponder how difficult it could have made life in Brazil for the women.  As a porn producer related in the Graun just this week, there are still those who might shoot perhaps one scene without realising that once it's online it's next to impossible to remove, even if the producer themselves acquiesces to their request to take it down.  The internet, if you want it to be, is a test of morals in itself.

The question to ask is where such a standpoint leads, and then there's the paradox within it, as Lawrence hints at.  You can't properly comment on something without seeing it, unless that is you're Mary Whitehouse or a politician.  At the same time, to look is to perpetuate the abuse.  Presumably the Vanity Fair interviewer had seen them prior to conducting the interview, and if Jessica Valenti hasn't also I'd be extremely surprised.

To give Lawrence the last word, in the interview she expresses disappointment rather than anger at how those she knows and loves had also looked at the pictures, which gives a better indication of how our minds work than anything else.  When even those closest to her, the most likely to empathise with her plight couldn't resist temptation, what chance the rest of us?

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